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Mijn Interview 


Nina van Gorkom 
5th August 2019 


Abstract 

An interview with Nina van Gorkom about the Abhidhamma. The 
original interview was in Dutch and has been transited into English. Nina 
van Gorkom is the author of the book Abhidhamma in Daily Life. 

Question: Can you say in short what is the Abhidhamma? 

Nina: The Abhidhamma explains what life is. Before hearing the 
Buddha’s teachings we had different ideas about life. Life is only one 
moment and it changes all the time, it falls away immediately. At 
the moment of seeing, life is seeing, at the moment of hearing, life is 
hearing. The Buddha explained about all that can be experienced 
through the senses and the mind. We always thought that life is 
permanent, and that there is a self coordinating all experiences. The 
Buddha explained that there is no self, only momentary realities that 
change all the time. What we take for a person are different mental 
moments and physical moments. None of these moments can stay 
and they cannot be controlled, and they cannot be caused to arise. 

Question: How did you come into contact with the Abhidhamma? 

Nina: I came to Thailand and met Acharn Sujin. I was looking for 
something but did not know what. I thought that there must be 
something else apart from parties and all the things that keep us 
busy in daily life. She explained that vipassana, insight into what 
is real, can be developed in daily life. Since I had a very busy life I 
thought that I could not retire and stay in a quiet place. She took 
me to the provinces, outside Bangkok, and explained to me simple 
things in the situatiion of daily life. For example, when we worry 
or have problems, these are only moments of thinking. She did not 
wait explaining to me about nama, mental phenomena , and rupa, 
physical phenomena. She explained that these are different kinds of 
reality. Nama can experience something and rupa cannot experience 
anything, but it can be experienced. She explained realities as they 
occur in different situations. Situations are not realities. We think 
of people and things but actually there are only nama and rupa. 
We can think of situations, ideas, concepts, and thinking itself is a 
reality. But what we think is not real in the absolute sense. 

Question: How did you begin studying the Abhidhamma? 


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Nina : By reading suttas and listening to Acharn’s radio programs. 

I listened each morning during breakfast. In this program she ex¬ 
plained about citta, a moment of consciousness, that arises within 
a process or series of cittas. She enumerated each of these moments 
of citta that succeed one another, explaining this each day again 
and again. In this way one could learn about the processes of citta. 
Asking questions I found important. Every time I visited Acharn I 
had a whole list of questions. She also made me work, writing about 
Dhannna. She had an English program and every fortnight there 
had to be a new program. I had to think it over and write down 
what I had reflected on. That was very helpful for the development 
of understanding. 

Question : It was a favorable condition that there was a teacher near you. 

What advice do you have for others who want to begin with the study and 
do not have a teacher near them? 

Nina: The Buddha said all the time that one should listen to the 
Dhannna and consider what one hears. This can also be done by 
reading of the texts, but that is not sufficient. Discussion helps, 
such as we do at our online meetings, asking questions, discussing 
and reflecting on what one has heard. There are no other means 
than these. 

Question : The Abhidhamma often deals with consciousness, and what is the 
meaning of consciousness, citta? 

Nina: Before coming into contact with the Buddha’s teachings we 
always thought of a self who coordinates all experiences, such as I 
see, I think, and also the brain plays its part. The Buddha’s teaching 
is quite different. There are specific conditions for each moment of 
citta. The visual object and eyesense are conditions for seeing, they 
associate so that seeing can arise. At the same time is seeing result 
of a former deed or kamma. There are many types of citta. See¬ 
ing and hearing are results of kamma, deeds committed in the past. 

We see and hear agreeable objects or disagreeable objects, seeing 
and hearing are results of good deeds and evil deeds. Then there 
are reactions to these experiences, these are more the active side of 
our life. We can react with wholesome consciousness or unwhole¬ 
some consciousness, and this is also conditioned. It is conditioned 
by accumulations of former experiences. Because of our education, 
what our parents taught us, there may be wholesome moments of 
generosity, moments of assisting others, and such good qualities fall 
away immediately together with consciousness. But each moment 
of consciousness conditions the following consciousness and that is 
why good and bad qualities can be passed on. They are never lost, 
they are passed on from one moment of consciousness to the next 
one, from one life to the next life.That can be called accumulation, 
accumulation of good and bad qualities in consciousness. Such ac¬ 
cumulations are among others a condition for the way we react to 
sense impressions. 


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Question: The book you wrote about the Abhidhamma is called Abhid- 
hamma in Daily Life. Can you elaborate more on what the Abhidhamma means 
in daily life? 

Nina: The Abhidhamma helps one to know oneself, but what we call 
self are actually the changing moments of consciousness. The aim of 
the Buddha’s teaching is not having more wholesomeness and less 
unwholesomeness. The aim is understanding, understanding that 
whatever arises is conditioned. It cannot be controlled, but it can 
be understood. One reacts to whatever occurs with attachment or 
with aversion, and these have arisen already. It is not possible to 
make them disappear, but they can be understood as conditioned 
elements, thus, as non-self. 

Question: Can you say more about feelings and emotions? 

Nina: We find feelings about our different experiences so important. 

We think of my feelings, my problems. It means that we are engaged 
with ourselves. 

Feeling in the Buddha’s teachings is different from emotions as we 
see them in the conventional meaning. Feeling is only a mental fac¬ 
tor, cetasika, which accompanies each citta. Its function is tasting 
the object that is experienced by citta. There are not only pleasant 
feeling and unpleasant feeling, but also indifferent or neutral feeling. 
Seeing now is accompanied by indifferent feeling. We believe that 
there is at that moment no feeling, but there is indifferent feeding 
and it falls away immediately. Feeling is a reality that is quite dif¬ 
ferent from what we consider feeling in conventional sense. We are 
very attached to feeling and our ideas about feeling, but actually it 
is only a cetasika that falls away immediately. When we have prob¬ 
lems in life we find them very important, but in fact these are only 
moments of thinking with different cetasikas such as aversion which 
falls away immediately. We believe that we can control them but in 
the end they are solved in a way that is totally different from what 
we expected. I experienced that during my journey. I was worried 
but my traveling which I find so difficult. I was reminded by a friend 
that in that way I was occupied with myself. I could not have any 
control. They were always solved in a way beyond expectation. I 
was worried how I could manage without a walker when arriving 
in Thailand and Vietnam. But there were walkers when I arrived, 
people had given them to me. I could not have known this ahead of 
time. 

Sarah had given me very good reminders about worry, she had just 
had an accident, an electrical shock because of touching an electric 
device. She was flung from one side of the room to the other side. 
Shortly afterwards she spoke very helpful words to me to remind 
me of the truth while I was worrying, but she could not remember 
what she had said. Those were kusala cittas that conditioned her 
speaking. It was beyond control. 


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Question: We always want to experience agreeable emotions. Can you add 
something about that? 

Nina: When we do not have them as expected we are disappointed. 

One cannot control anything and one has to accept that. 

I Heard during our sessions about people who awoke during the night 
because of fear, but that is not in accordance with the Buddha’s 
teachings. There should be a removal of a burden when one follows 
his teachings. One cannot control whatever happens, but one can 
come to have more understanding.The Path of the Buddha does not 
have anxiety as effect. 

Question: But we all have fears. How should we see these in according with 
the Abhidhamma? 

Nina: By not taking them for self or mine. Only a mental reality, 
not self. One can never know the next moment. 

Question: Alertness or paying attention is a very important factor. 

Nina: This word may be misleading. We need a word that is a 
translation of sati but alertness could suggest a self who is alert and 
notices whether a reality is wholesome or unwholesome. It may give 
an idea of a self who notices this. Sati is a cetasika that can only arise 
with a wholesome citta. It is non-forgetful of what is wholesome. 

There are many levels of sati, such as sati that is non-forgetful of 
generosity. Or we have an opportunity to help someone else, but we 
are lazy and do not move. But when sati arises because of conditions, 
it remembers that helping is wholesome and then we will help others. 

That is only one level. There is also sati of a higher level. There 
are many different realities such as seeing, thinking of what is seen, 
attachment, and then there is the realization that understanding of 
these realities is beneficial. It is not self that realizes this, it is sati. 

Sati is mindful, non-forgetful, of whatever reality appears. Sati may 
arise or may not arise, we do not know ahead of time, we cannot 
arrange for it. 

Question: which were the four points that were mentioned during your jour¬ 
ney as conditions for understanding? 

Nina: Listening to the teachings, and this can be by means of dis¬ 
cussion or reading. Considering what one heard, thus, not merely 
passively listening. One does not have to do this deliberately, but 
later on during the day, for example, there may be conditions to 
recall what one heard or what one read and reflect upon this. These 
are two points. The third point is that considering the Buddha’s 
words is to be in daily life. It is not necessary to go to a specific 
place. It has to be in daily life. While we are talking or in the 
kitchen we can consider the Dharnma we heard. The fourth point 
is confidence, confidence that this the Buddha’s word, and that we 
can develop understanding of what he taught. 


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Question : are these four points helpful to establish sati? 

Nina: We should not have an idea that it is necessary to establish 
sati. It depends on conditions whether or not sati arises. What 
is most important is not alertness, but understanding, the under¬ 
standing of the different moments of consciousness and the physical 
phenomena, nama and rupa. This is the aim and it can condition 
later on direct understanding of realities through satipattliana. We 
should not have expectations. When we have expectations there 
is already attachment. Whatever attachment there may be, it is 
counterproductive. 


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